Audio: Derry MLA Sinead McLaughlin blasts 'Invest Belfast' prompting 'economics of envy' claim by South Belfast MLA Chris Stalford

SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin has clashed with DUP MLA Chris Stalford over whether or not Derry gets a fair deal from Invest NI.
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Mrs. McLaughlin said Derry was hard done by and that Invest NI needed to start directing investment to areas where there are greater levels of unemployment and lower levels of economic activity.

But Mr. Stalford said Derry was getting its fair share and accused Ms. McLaughlin of espousing “the politics of envy”.

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“The solution to a lack of investment in Craigavon or in Londonderry is not to try and strangle investment in Belfast. That’s the politics of envy. That’s the economics of envy,” said Mr. Stalford.

Clash over sub-regional jobs promotion.Clash over sub-regional jobs promotion.
Clash over sub-regional jobs promotion.

Mrs. McLaughlin and other MLAs disagreed but the South Belfast MLA insisted: “Yes it is. It is envy. People invest here because it’s a good city to invest in.

"We have a highly educated workforce and because it’s a good place to come and live because of the cost of living. You will not pull Londonderry up by dragging Belfast down.”

The clash occurred at a Stormont Economy Committee meeting at Invest NI’s office in Belfast.

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“Invest NI have had in the past a rule that they do not do sub-regional targeting in terms of investment and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI),” said Mrs. McLaughlin.

She asked Invest NI’s Executive Director of Strategy Donal Durkan if that was still agency policy under new Chief Executive Kevin Holland.

“Brexit is going to have a more negative impact for those regions that are not nearest to Belfast and therefore we need to rethink the strategy of the organisation in terms of sub-regional targets,” she said.

Mr. Durkan reiterated Invest NI’s long-stated position that it doesn’t promote areas but the North as a whole.

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“In terms of promoting this place we promote NI as single location in terms of FDI. That promotion is based on skills, talents, cost-competitiveness and connectivity and applies equally across the whole of NI,” he said.

But Mrs. McLaughlin said: “I beg to differ. I really beg to differ. It doesn’t. And that’s the problem.”

Mr. Durkan insisted that “over the last 10 years 2/3s of the support that we have given has been to businesses outside of the Belfast region”.

This was picked up by Mr. Stalford who, describing Belfast as the ‘engine that drives the economy of NI’, said: “If I heard you right did you say 2/3s of the investment that you delivered was outside the city? And yet the greater Belfast conurbation accounts for 40 per cent of the population of NI?”

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Mr. Durkan replied: “Over the last 10 years 2/3s of investment and 2/3s of the jobs created have been outside the Belfast city region.”

Mr. Stalford remarked: “So Belfast actually is under-performing.”

But Mrs. McLaughlin went on to state: “We have a weak economy. We have poor productivity. We have low levels of innovation and that is more felt outside of the greater Belfast area. And to my esteemed colleague Christopher here, Invest NI, quite often in the place where I live, is called Invest Belfast.”